Russian investigators said on Thursday that the black box retrieved from last Saturday’s plane crash that killed 96 people including late Polish president Lech Kaczynski did not provide any evidence that the pilots had been pressured to land.
Officials said transcripts of conversations from the cockpit rebutted theories that the Polish delegation had insisted the pilot land, despite heavy fog at Smolensk airport in western Russia.
“There is no confirmation that any of the high-ranking passengers ordered the pilots to land near Smolensk. The flight recorder, whose tapes are being deciphered, did not register any pressure on crew members,” a source close to the commission investigating the crash told the Russian news agency Interfax.
The president’s Tupolov plane crashed during its first attempt to land, Russian officials said on Thursday, rejecting claims that it had tried to land on three occasions. It clipped a copse as it neared the runway, with a tree shearing off its left wing, then plunged into the ground and broke up.
Polish Attorney-General Krzysztof Parulski said the plane was travelling at a speed of 150m per second to 180m per second.
“Three to five seconds before the crash the pilots were aware that it was unavoidable,” he said.
This week former Polish prime minister Leszek Miller said he thought Kaczynski might have contributed to the accident by insisting the pilots land in Smolensk. Air traffic control on the ground had told the delegation to divert to Moscow or Minsk because of low visibility.
Kaczynski had been determined to attend a memorial service on the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre, Miller said. “The pilot knew this and so they accepted the risk and in the process lost everything.”
Russian investigators said the most compelling explanation remained pilot error.
They said the crew had been informed well in advance that the military airfield was not equipped with a modern landing navigation system.